Which one of these three TV Ramayanas was your favourite?
Which one of these three TV Ramayanas was your favourite?

Ramanand Sagar’s iconic Ramayana or Star Plus’ Siya Ke Ram, which was the best adaptation of the epic?

The Indian television has seen many versions of Ramayana over the years. Here were compare the three most popular ones.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Soumya Srivastava
UPDATED ON MAR 29, 2020 07:24 AM IST

The iconic 1986 television epic, Ramayana has come back to the small screen. While the reason for its return may not be the most wholesome, it sure arrives at a time when people could really use a big dose of nostalgia and the comfort of simpler times.

Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day lockdown to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the country, tweets started cropping up, asking Doordarshan to bring back the old epics, Ramayana and Mahabharat. Many thought the shows will bring some respite from the tense environment created by the pandemic and give people more incentive to stay at home.

And their pleas were soon heard. The two shows are back on the telly just a couple of days into the lockdown. However, these are not the only two versions of the epic to ever hit the screen. So why do we favour them so much more over the others?

Over the years, I have managed to watch the countless reruns of Ramayana and on the basis of that, here is a comparison between the 1986 series and the 2015 Star Plus series Siya Ke Ram. However, apart from these two, Sagar Arts made another rather miserable attempt at Ramayan in 2008 with NDTV Imagine and we will talk about it too.

The Characters

Ram:

Left to right: Arun Govil, Gurmeet Chaudhary and Ashish Sharma in Ramayan (1986), Ramayan (2008) and Siya Ke Ram.
Left to right: Arun Govil, Gurmeet Chaudhary and Ashish Sharma in Ramayan (1986), Ramayan (2008) and Siya Ke Ram.

You will notice how all the actors just kept getting younger and younger with each new iteration. While Gurmeet and Ashish were more or less of the same age, Arun Govil looked like middle-age Ram.

Arun Govil’s voice was his biggest asset which was gentle and calming. One could actually listen to him with your eyes closed and attain spiritual bliss.

Ashish Sharma was a muscular, powerful Ram with a forever pokerface. But he did look a lot more like a prince than Arun Govil. Gurmeet Chaudhary, however, was always over the top at everything he did. Always super angry, super romantic or super coy.

Sita:

Left to right: Deepika Chiklis, Debina Bonnerjee and Madirakshi Mundle in Ramayan (1986), Ramayan (2008) and Siya Ke Ram.
Left to right: Deepika Chiklis, Debina Bonnerjee and Madirakshi Mundle in Ramayan (1986), Ramayan (2008) and Siya Ke Ram.

The makes of Siya Ke Ram has always maintained that the show is a retelling of the epic from Sita’s perspective which Madirakshi a lot more room to impress. She is not mute or opinionless like Deepika Chiklis’ Sita. Yes, she is still self-sacrifising like we know Sita to be, but she is also has opinions of her own. In the first few episodes, she was not just a beautiful princess but one who helped her father and the people of her land in need. Madirakshi was also more expressive without going overboard.

Talking about going overboard, Debina Bonnerjee overdid everything, just like Gurmeet. She would make the most animated faces and talk while smiling through her teeth even when the scene called for a normal conversation.

Ravana:

Left to right: Arvind Trivedi, Akhilendra Mishra and Karthik Jayaram in Ramayan (1986), Ramayan (2008) and Siya Ke Ram.
Left to right: Arvind Trivedi, Akhilendra Mishra and Karthik Jayaram in Ramayan (1986), Ramayan (2008) and Siya Ke Ram.

Akhilendra Mishra maybe the only actor of the three that people know outside from his role as Ravana. He is a great actor and also pretty scary. But the shoddy series could not be saved even with Mishra on their side.

Trivedi made Ravana iconic with his pot-belly with a heavy moustache. Karthik is big too but in a ‘gym-jock’ way rather than a ‘fat-demon’ way. But it does seem logical that Ravana should be muscular because how else would he be able to wreak havoc on an entire army? Surely not with a pot-belly.

Karthik’s accent was not popular among the audience as many Hindi words would give him trouble. Like rather than saying ‘dha-nush’ he would always say ‘daa-nuss’. They did get a voice actor to dub over his words but it was all too evident on screen and a tad irritating.

Hanuman:

Left to right: Dara Singh, Vikram Sharma and Danish Akhtar in Ramayan (1986), Ramayan (2008) and Siya Ke Ram.
Left to right: Dara Singh, Vikram Sharma and Danish Akhtar in Ramayan (1986), Ramayan (2008) and Siya Ke Ram.

Dara Singh was just brilliant as Hanuman. There are two things expected of anyone who plays Hanuman- a) that he is big and muscular and b) that he is funny. Dara Singh was the perfect mix of both these qualities.

Vikram fell short on both these criteria. He was not very big, which we could have overlooked had he been funny.

Danish was huge but inspired! And the make up department did him dirty.

The Sets and Costumes

A still from Ramananda Sagar’s Ramayan. (YouTube)
A still from Ramananda Sagar’s Ramayan. (YouTube)

The 1986 version was all about super bright colours and we can understand that considering how the Indian population was just getting introduced to colour television. It’s obvious that producers would go ballistic with the pinks and the reds.

The sets were rather simple and so were the costumes.But a big undertaking still, considering the time and era.

But looks like with time, peoples aesthetic doesn’t always mature. Look at this:

A still from the 2008 Ramayan. (NDTV Imagine)
A still from the 2008 Ramayan. (NDTV Imagine)

‘And it was so yellow’. The entire 300-episode series was made in ugly yellows and sepia tones. All men were made to wear shiny, brown lipsticks, oodles of kohl and nothing about their makeup was natural.

Making an epic TV series means CGI is inevitable. In Siya Ke Ram, the computer graphics helped give an appearance of grandeur. The attention to detail and the costumes were beautiful as well:

A still from Siya Ke Ram. (Hotstar)
A still from Siya Ke Ram. (Hotstar)
A still from Siya Ke Ram. (Hotstar)
A still from Siya Ke Ram. (Hotstar)

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Notice the lamps behind the actors, the divan, the beautiful artwork and the colourful sheets. Everything was just right for a king’s room.

Sure the CGI did go a bit awry from time to time:

Ram and Sita with a horrible CGI deer. (Hotstar)
Ram and Sita with a horrible CGI deer. (Hotstar)

The story:

While the earlier two versions stuck closely to the original work by Valmiki and Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, Siya Ke Ram took full liberty with the content. For instance, they included the story of Ram’s elder sister which was something not many knew about. They even snuck in the sidestory of Ravana getting his sister Surpanakha’s husband killed because she married out of her clan.

The great acting from even the secondary characters like Kaikeyi (Grusha Kapoor) and Dasharath (Dalip Tahil) was also enough to keep viewers hooked. But the 1986 Ramayana has something none of the other two have. The sheer pull of nostalgia.

As for me, my personal favourite will forever be the 1992 animated film Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Ram. Every year on Dushera, Cartoon Network would air this Japanese wonder and it would be perfect, fire-cracker free way to celebrate the festival. Do any of you desi millennials still remember it?

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